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Cooking up Christmas cheer for foster families

A personal chef and caterer from Garden Home provides sweet eats for more than 100 foster children at the Tualatin Valley Elks Lodge in Tualatin
by: Jonathan House, SANTA SLUMBER — Santa Claus (Al Thun) takes his role seriously at the Foresters’ and Tualatin Valley Elks’ Christmas party Sunday for foster families. Syra Coker pictured is not a foster child but is part of a family that has foster children.

Robert Johnson, of Garden Home, doesn't work in the kitchen - he lives in the kitchen. And for the past two months his life has been made all the more sweet as he labored to prepare Christmas goodies for more than 100 foster children and their foster families.

Spending 12 to 21 hours a day in the kitchen almost every day for those two months was worth it, said Johnson, the sole proprietor and chef of One Shoe Culinary Creations catering service.

'For kids, besides Santa, food is the next best thing,' Johnson said as he rolled in a narrow path in the kitchen, his hands grabbing for pots as he tried to simultaneously steer and stop his wheelchair.

'(The kids) have got to go home with a sugar high,' he added.

On Sunday, Johnson cooked for and fed Washington County foster families at the Tualatin Valley Elks Lodge in Tualatin.

Sitting in a high chair, a 1-year-old girl grabbed impatiently at broken pieces of lemon bread, shoving them in her mouth before her foster mother Lauren Randolph of Hillsboro could stop her.

Lauren laughed and pulled the napkin just out of the little one's reach. Lauren and her husband Scott attended Sunday's party with eight of their foster children.

'We try to keep (Christmas) low key and family oriented,' Lauren said. Two of her foster children lost their mother on Christmas Day, Lauren said.

The family tries to play down the glitz and glamour of the holiday season, she added, and concentrate on what's important - family.

The Christmas party was a combined effort between Tualatin Valley Elks and the Hillsboro Foresters, a fraternal organization. Last year the Foresters group worked with Washington County to put on a similar Christmas celebration for foster children.

This year, the Foresters raised $1,500 to buy presents for every child.

'The most exciting part is watching them open their gifts,' said Susan Wickstrom, branch secretary for the Foresters.

Johnson solicited $1,700 in donations from local businesses for food at the event. But as the event announcer noted, One Shoe catering provided 99 percent of the work in preparing the food.

Johnson, an Elks member, cooked breakfast and lunch for the two waves of families that came to the Christmas celebrations Sunday. And in the last two months, Johnson prepared peanut and cashew brittle, Christmas cookies, gingersnaps, brownie Christmas tree tarts, seven different types of bread, chocolate chip cookies and homemade Twinkies.

Volunteers with the Elks Lodge, the Foresters, Tualatin High School, Boy Scouts Troop 685 and Girls Scouts from Aloha helped to serve as Santa's helpers, passing out gifts and stacking goodies on tables.

Johnson had seven volunteers helping in the rather narrow lodge kitchen. Every volunteer and dollar donated helped, he noted.

'I'm just an old-fashioned-type person,' Johnson said after the event. 'I believe in a handshake. You know the simple stuff though it may not seem simple at the time.'